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  2. Brexit
16 April 2019updated 07 Jun 2021 1:45pm

The pro-EU party Renew has vowed to fold into Change UK. But will the Liberal Democrats do the same?

By Stephen Bush

New(ish) centrist pro-European party Renew will fold itself into new centrist pro-European party(ish) Change UK, once the latter has completed its transition from a group into a fully-fledged political party, the two parties have announced.

The parliamentarians formerly known as TIG have had to complete their transition rather more quickly than they would have hoped. As with any new party, they are heavily reliant on media exposure and all things being equal, they would have been better off if they were able to announce their new name and branding over the summer holidays when there will be very little going on in Westminster. But the European elections are a contest that they can’t afford to miss, so they have had to accelerate their development.

The real prize at stake for the various explicitly pro-European parties in this contest isn’t victory – there are too many of them to do that and their non-Brexit aims and interests are too disparate for a tie-up. While the SNP and Plaid Cymru might work well with the Liberal Democrats, Greens and Change UK in parliament, they cannot plausibly cohere around any kind of joint ticket outside of it.

In addition, none of those groups are going to get the level of media oxygen and attention that Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is going to get.

But there’s a real prize on offer for Change UK: the relative positions of its party and the Liberal Democrats going into the inevitable talks about an alliance of some shape or form.

Change UK MPs used to talk very freely about the problems with the Liberal Democrats’ brand and the need for that party’s MPs to accept that the jig was up and to join their new grouping. But the stumbling block is that even if they could convince Liberal Democrat MPs to make the leap – a planet-sized if – data can’t defect. And it is data, institutional memory and a pre-existing activist base that the Liberal Democrats bring to the table.

On the Change UK side they bring an untainted brand and, at least theoretically, more potential for growth. How they perform in the European elections will be a significant proof point for the party – and that they have managed to seal an alliance between a pre-existing, albeit relatively new, party with its own activists and organisational apparatus is a boost to their hopes.

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